(Editor’s Note: We are proud to announce that an Istanbul Eats guidebook to dining in Istanbul will soon be available in Turkey, published in English by Boyut Publishers. In the course of preparing the book, we went back to some of our favorite haunts and took some new photos. One of our favorites was of Ahmet, the indefatigable waiter at Enver Usta in Beyoğlu. In honor of him and the soon-to-be released book, we are rerunning the review along with the new photo.)
(Editor’s Note II: As of early 2013, Enver Usta has moved to İlkbelediye Caddesi, Cem İş Merkezi 19, Galata/Beyoğlu.)
We usually avoid cramped basement spaces that have open fires and only one, narrow exit. But we make an exception for Kebapçı Enver Usta, a subterranean kebab joint that hits the spot when we’re looking for a simple and satisfying lunch.
Finding Enver Usta is part of the fun. Located for the last 20 years on a quiet Beyoğlu alley that thankfully has been bypassed by the neighborhood’s gentrifying wave, the restaurant occupies the bottom most floor of what seems like an abandoned building, the only sign of life a lone flower pot that sits on one of the window ledges. Next door is a forlorn-looking teahouse.
Things get livelier once you step down the stairs that lead from the sidewalk and into the restaurant. On most days, Enver Usta is packed to the gills with locals who are either eating at one of the few tables or waiting for one to open up. At the far end of the low-ceilinged restaurant stands Enver Usta himself, a skinny and slightly hunched over man with a serious gaze and an occasionally surly manner. While he tends to the smoky grill, Enver also barks out orders at the tireless Ahmet, the joint’s sole waiter for the last 14 years.
Enver Usta carries the standard array of kebabs, but does them all just right. We are partial to his tasty Adana kebab, made of minced meat that is mixed with red pepper flakes. But we’ve also enjoyed the chicken kebab and wings, both marinated in a piquant red pepper sauce, and the çöp şiş, tiny cubes of tender beef grilled on a skewer. When you order, be sure to ask Ahmet for a plate of the excellent ezme salatası, a salad made of finely chopped red onion, tomato, red pepper and parsley, and of the equally good bulgur pilaf. We also like asking Ahmet for a plate of lavaş, thin flatbread that’s great for wrapping around the kebabs. At the end of your meal, do yourself a favor and get an order of the excellent baklava that’s delivered to restaurant on a daily basis.
We tend to leave Enver Usta feeling stuffed. That’s when we encounter the real danger of eating in an underground restaurant – getting up the pitched stairs on a very full stomach.
Address: Tramvay Sokağı 5A, Tünel/Beyoğlu
(photo by Yigal Schleifer)